Part of working at anything, of being a craftsperson, is the constant search for new techniques that either aid you on your process or add something new to your process, making you better in the process.

Over the last few weeks I’ve heard about a number of rigging techniques that sounded counter-intuive at first, but the more I think about them the more interesting they become.

The one I’m most interested in trying out will be arriving soon as a very expensive DVD: the Mastering Maya: Developing Modular Rigging Systems with Python. The autorig itself is almost identical to something I’ve worked on in my spare time, but what’s crazy about it is that the autorigger works by layering on top of referenced FK skeletons in shot files.

I’ve never built a rig that was feature limited, or where an animator asked for something that I thought wouldn’t benefit everyone. (I do only IK limbs in my own work, but that’s a different story.) But before, the rig would be modified and the change would move downstream as part of the referencing system. The idea that you’d want to not reference characters as a whole, and allow animators to pick and choose their favorite controls, seemed ludicrous on first listen.

The pros are very compelling. You can always strip out the control rigs and put the keys on the FK rig; pure FK rigs are very compatible across all programs. Not to mention, feature-level control schemes could be applied to game characters as well (and moving forwards, I fully expect more and more projects in this industry to target all “three screens”). There’s also the ease of fixing issues on a single animator basis: once a fix is in the autorig, they can bake their keys down to the FK rig, remove the old controller, them reapply the rig in the scene with no need for the TD to come over and swap things around.

But what of multiple scenes? Does a script run on scene load and alert animators to updates controls as they become available? How are major changes propagated to all shots throughout the pipeline?

Right now the answer I’m coming up with is: the animators apply changes on their own. If they want the new rig with fixes, then they opt in by baking their keys to the base FK rig and blowing away the broken contol rig, replacing it with the fixed version. I can’t wait to see if that’s how the 3DBuzz tutorial solves this problem.

It also gets around a nasty issue: because broken rigs live in scene files, you don’t have to have multiple copies of fixed rigs that travel downstream for shots that used the respective broken rig iterations.

Then there’s the idea that this makes character referencing less important– in software that doesn’t support animated references like Lightwave and Cinema4D, you get the benefts of a tool that gets around the issues of rig updates. You still need to force tool updates on all artist machines, but that’s less of an problem for me.

Anyway, it’s been over a week and I’m still waiting on my purchase, so all I can do is speculate and look forward to what’s in store.

On the music front, I finally got something out of Live that did not suck. In fact, I just might like the drum beat. The weird part is that while nothing I have in my head comes out when I sit down to write music, what does come– however different it may be– still makes me happy.